Album Review: Julian Casablancas + the Voidz - Tyranny

Album Reviews
09/25/2014
Gerrit Feenstra

If solo records are truly artists giving in fully to self-indulgence, Julian Casablancas has a pretty bizarre way of indulging. Some chose to pack on a slough of bloated guest appearances that ended up making it even less of a solo record than their normal band's material. Others have created a whole new character for themselves,to dabble in identity replacement to write from a separate point of view. Then the least creative of the bunch usually just end up digging back through the crate and releasing some fresh recordings of the lo-fi b-sides that they weren't brave enough to drop back in their band's heyday. But I don't think any of the above describe The Strokes frontman's fresh endeavor as Julian Casablancas + the Voidz with any dignity. Nope, Julian turned the solo record model that he pursued on 2009's Phrazes For The Young of making a record for himself on its head — rather, Tyranny is a self described record for nobody. "This is for nobody", Julian repeats on album opener "Take Me In Your Army", as four minutes of droning synthesizer and aimless, near-atonal guitars move up and down the fret board for a purpose unbeknownst to the listener. "The customer is obviously oblivious", Julian croons later on in the song — no shit. From day 1, Casablancas has striven to make the Voidz a jarring experience, and here in full length album form, that remains to be the case. But through and through, Tyranny is one of the strongest efforts we've seen from Julian in more than half a decade, and it deserves to cause calamity in your speakers so long as you can digest it.

Remember all those scathing reviews of the Voidz debut at SXSW this year? A show in pitch black darkness, introducing songs later to be put on a record with a pitch black cover, played in grimy, prog-rock style, distorted so much so that when Casablancas pulled out an old Strokes track or two, the crowd didn't even recognize it? Well here's a thought for you: what if all that was on purpose? It's no secret that in the Internet age of split second information, there's no such thing as fan loyalty anymore. It's a take take take culture with all the strings being pulled by a select few at the top that dictate more than they inspire. Arcade Fire talked about it on "Joan of Arc". Savages yelled about it on "Fuckers". Now Julian is here to scream about it over the course of an hour on Tyranny. What do we get for an album rollout from Julian? There were a couple grainy interviews of the band by the band, and then there was the record's lead single, the 11 minute opus "Human Sadness" that opens with a cryptic voice whispering, "Put the money in my hand and I'll do the things you want me to". I'd say Julian's point is pretty well made.

All that to say, Casablancas and his focus on tyranny don't let themselves to anarchy. Now, the album roll out is done and now it's time to get right to the heat of it. There we have "Where No Eagles Fly", a textbook Casablancas groove if ever there was one, soaked in murky bloodlust and an outcry for a promise of freedom forsaken long ago. The spacey rock tune drives forward with murderous confidence before exploding in glorious fashion at the end. There's no hidden message on this track or reading between the lines to get the bigger picture — rather, it's one of the best tracks of the year and there's no denying it. With the Voidz, Julian switches up his sound, demeanor, and outlook all to throw a middle finger in the air. But it's a gesture thrown with confidence and poise, all soaked in two tons of distortion.

The fantastic lyrics of "Human Sadness" and "Where No Eagles Fly" continue later on in the fourth quarter of the record. "Dare I Care" is a tell-off to our generation's apathetic perception of its own affluence, while "Nintendo Blood" makes a game out of our desensitization to violence. Finally, "Off To War..." closes the album with its only moment above the depths, seeing Julian make one heartfelt wish amongst a multitude of well-versed accusations. But Tyranny spends the time in between then and "No Eagles" exploring a fantastic new soundscape that I hope and pray Julian isn't done with. "Father Electricity" takes prog rock to the islands for a seven minute epic of a tropical dance track. "Xerox" plays host to an eerie experimental groove that wanders over just enough of a bass line to keep your head bobbing. Elsewhere, "Business Dog" (one of the those from the SXSW sets that made the final album cut) is a brutal, two and a half minute punk throwdown that pats corporate slaves on the head with a mallet.

Julian is, no doubt, taking a risk with Tyranny. Sure, he and the Strokes could pump out another slow churning "just enough" balance of engaging and cute like Comedown Machine every couple years for the rest of forever and probably do just fine. But with Tyranny, Casablancas goes out on a limb — something that you can't say for a good 90% of the scene's current participants. Tyranny is not always friendly to the ears. It doesn't claim to be anything but what it is, really. And from the beginning it gives you clear warning that it holds no perception of neatly defined audience to retweet every teaser and buy the pre-order and jump on the sweepstakes giveaway with corporate sponsor X. "I want my money back", Julian sings on "Dare I Care" - you could say the same if you want something comfortable that gives you some nostalgic sense of security in your set ways. Or, you could take a punch or two and see what happens. A "failed" SXSW debut sure made for great press — just depends on how you want to see the sine waves.

Tyranny is out this week on Julian's own Cult Records. Grab the record on CD or vinyl at your local record store, or head to his online shop to get it on cassette or USB lighter! To hear more Tyranny, the record is streaming before the release at Stereogum. Julian and the Voidz will tour in support of Tyranny, and you can see them tear shit up at Showbox on November 13, with Mac DeMarco opening! That is one bill you don't want to miss.

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